Automate Your Home

Monday, August 20, 2012

What was once possible only in sci-fi movies and forward-thinking cartoons is now becoming reality in homes across Canada, as advances in automation offer us capabilities to run our households with the touch of a button or screen.  Smartphones and tablets are becoming universal remotes that control our HVAC, lighting and security functions – and possibly more, depending on the type of system we choose and the expenditure we are willing to make.

Which functions can be automated?  For the right price, you can hook up just about anything to achieve onsite and online control.  The most common options include controlling your:

  • Heating and cooling system. 
  • Home entertainment system, including programming your DVR.
  • Indoor/Outdoor lighting.
  • Door locks.
  • Security system.
  • Small appliances.
  • Fire, carbon monoxide and water monitors.
  • Two-way voice communication.

The reasons behind homeowners’ decisions to turn their homes into smart homes run the gamut from enhancing security to saving energy to simply making life more convenient and fun.  For example, you can make your home more secure through trespass detectors and cameras that alert you whether you are in the house or away.  Having the ability to turn lights on while you’re out can enhance your security efforts as well, while automatic dimmers and climate control can help you save energy.

The cost of a system varies widely, with price tags ranging from $2,000 to $1 million+.  Costs include installation, monthly fees, maintenance and upgrades. Higher-end systems also include costs for custom-designing.  The hardware needed to run your system – interactive touch pads, security cameras and such – varies depending on your needs as well. Most systems today are wireless, so they are energy-efficient and easy to use.

How far can you take home automation? If money is no object, you can take it as far as your imagination can reach.  A $130,000+ system that won Calgary-based Home Concepts accolades from the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association in 2010 illuminates the footpath when guests pull into the driveway, turns on the TV when a favourite show comes on and plays a person’s favourite music whenever he or she enters a certain room.  It also includes a motion sensor for the hot tub that plays a taped recording of the homeowner’s voice warning wayward children, “You’re not supposed to be here!”.

Rooms chosen by the homeowner are equipped with touch screens, keypads, video displays and speakers, and the homeowner has the ability to control the system, view security camera images and unlock the front gates from anywhere in the world through his iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or PC.

How can you take it a step further?  More expensive systems might turn a dining room into a disco, complete with laser lighting, plasma video screens and a club-quality sound system, through a single command.  Electronically controlled window shades, video projectors that drop from the ceiling and cinema-quality home theatres are available, too.  High-end automation systems can integrate any part of the home, from the house itself to the pool, yard and patio or spa.

As with other forms of technology, the cost of owning a home automation system will decrease as it becomes more popular and manufacturers find more cost-efficient ways to produce and install it. Is there a living-room-turned-disco in your future?


Sources: Control4, Home Control Canada, Magen Home Automation, WalletPop Canada.